Saugus Adopts Kindergarten Graduation Requirements

Times Staff Writer

Tiny Saugus Union School District, with eight elementary schools and about 3,800 students, has become the first school district in California to establish kindergarten graduation requirements.

Beginning in September, parents of kindergarten students will be informed that their children will have to pass a 60-point exam to be promoted to the first grade. Kindergartners will be tested on basic math concepts, such as the ability to count to 30 orally and to write, in order, the numbers 1-10.

Pre-reading skills, such as alphabet recognition, the ability to put a familiar story into proper sequence and identification of consonant sounds, will also be on the test.

Identify Shapes

The 5-year-olds will also be asked to identify shapes, such as triangles and squares, and to follow basic instruction, such as circling "the shortest flower" or "the tallest tree."

"What we are testing are the minimum expectation levels that children need to function well in first grade," said Saugus school Supt. James M. Foster. "The test results will give the teacher something objective to use when talking to parents about their child's performance."

The Board of Trustees of the Saugus school district approved establishment of "proficiency standards" for kindergarten promotion last week. Foster said the kindergarten requirements fall into line with the proficiency standards that students in all other grade levels are required to meet to be promoted.

Formalizing Practice

Deborah Spitek, an associate professor of education at UCLA, said that Saugus is formalizing what has been done informally in many school districts.

"You can do a child harm by rushing him along," Spitek said. "Rushing a child into first grade when he isn't ready to learn to read can be more traumatic than having him repeat kindergarten."

State School Supt. William Honig said he approves of the Saugus district's institution of kindergarten graduation requirements.

"It is better to get help at the start of an academic career than it is to have teachers try to fix problems later on," Honig said. "We have to make sure that students have certain abilities so they can succeed. If we don't, these students can get lost."

Unanimous Vote

Betty Lund, president of the Saugus district's Board of Trustees, said the five-member panel voted unanimously for establishing the proficiency standards as a way to reinforce the ideals of academic excellence and school accountability for a student's performance set forth in SB 813, the sweeping education reform measure approved by the state Legislature in 1983. If a child repeating kindergarten needs help to bring learning and social skills up to a level needed for success in first-grade academic work, special programs will be provided, Lund said.

"This is not a negative type of program," Lund said. "It is really a positive way to say that a child can be successful academically if given just a little more time to mature."

While a formal kindergarten graduation requirement may be new to California, school districts in New Haven, Conn., and in Minneapolis have had similar requirements for some time. Although it has no set policy, the Los Angeles Unified School District has required some of its kindergarten, first- and second-grade students to repeat these primary grades.

Los Angeles Data

A Los Angeles school district report last fall stated that, during the 1981-82 school year, 1,712 of about 38,000 kindergartners were held back. If a Los Angeles district teacher believes a student would benefit from an additional year in kindergarten, parents must be notified in March, and then a series of meetings between the teacher, the school's principal, the school psychologist and the parents is arranged to discuss the matter.

"I've never seen any research evidence that indicates that an extra year of kindergarten is traumatic for a child," said Spitek. "It can be traumatic for the parents if the idea is not presented properly. Parents must feel confident that the decision is based on proper criteria."

Foster said, "It is not a question of holding somebody back. Rather, it is a way to make sure a student is in the proper place. What we are trying to do is make sure everyone is successful."

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